Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Well-Dressed War Machine Wears Green

With that title, I’m referring not to the color of soldiers’ uniforms or St. Patrick’s Day attire, but rather, to modern attempts by the armaments makers to greenwash their operations, and to the taxpayer greenbacks that pay for American militarism instead of genuine environmental preservation and other beneficial programs.

Of course, “Raytheon Celebrates Earth Day”. From their corporate website:

But for a truly astounding example of such greenwashing (which I still find surreal more than a year after I first saw it), watch the following 2011 video from KVOA television, the Tucson NBC affiliate:


(The above link provides access to both the video and a slightly-inaccurate transcript).

Above is one frame from the web version of that KVOA “news” segment,
“Raytheon innovates new ways of going green”, aired October 13, 2011.

Though not usually associated with armaments suppliers, greenwashing of corporate activity is nothing new, and I presume that the above local “news” segment was supposed to make viewers feel all warm and fuzzy about the merchants of death at Raytheon. (How, though, is beyond my comprehension, unless the viewers are regarded as complete morons by both Raytheon and KVOA — which may well be the case).

Depending on one’s point of view, the military-industrial complex may or may not be a giant sinkhole swallowing desperately-needed national resources and perverting national priorities, but none of that is even an issue, all’s right with the world, for they recycle their soft-drink cans and office supplies! While high-efficiency lighting or solar panels might be of benefit for logistical reasons within a combat zone, can anyone in their right mind believe that recycling — or even the grandest of environmental initiatives — by a defense contractor stateside makes a laudable difference, in the context of the overall waste of national resources by the military and its suppliers? “Inane” doesn’t even begin to describe this gushing television segment. The presentation by KVOA of this greenwashing tripe as newsworthy, with no reference to broader concerns and not even a trace of irony, must rate as one of the clearest indicators I’ve ever seen of the journalistic bankruptcy of local television “news” reporting.

One needn’t be a pacifist to recognize that the American military-industrial complex now plays a pathological role in the course of contemporary human events. And in fact I am not a pacifist; I understand that in our present world, some military capability is necessary. But the true problems of our nation receive, at best, token attention, while unnecessary and futile wars drag on year after year, taking an incalculable toll. All but the blind can see America's basic military readiness harmed, soldiers demoralized, or worse, made physical or psychological casualties of our insane interminable wars. All but those suffering from terminal American exceptionalism or denial should be able to understand the immorality of foreign civilians injured and killed — and the new enemies thereby created. Technology will not provide a magic solution; our high-tech semi-robotic instruments of war may reduce U.S. casualties, but they cannot mask the destruction and hatred created on the receiving end of our actions. And used or unused, the costs of our war machines, and indeed, of our entire military, are bankrupting the nation, and have a massive “opportunity cost” of better things not done.

Perhaps the most under-appreciated damage involves what has been done to our national ideals and the political process. For decades, both officeholders and candidates have been afraid to take rational positions with regard to our military spending, our worldwide military presence, and our military actions. For politicians, mustn’t be seen as weak or hesitant; for the human cogs of the war machine tasked with keeping the pipeline of cannon fodder full, mustn’t be seen as in any way reducing the flow. Washington, D.C., or Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington State, the result is the same. Even the term “Defense Department”, for what used to be called, more honestly, the “Department of War”, hints at the disconnect between our perceptions/actions and reality. Nearly every military action, even an unjustified, massive invasion and occupation of a sovereign foreign country, such as the United States led in Iraq, has been rebranded as “defense” — and since, in the popular mind, one can never have enough defense, an unending string of wars is rationalized. Should our present ones show signs of winding down, well, the chicken-hawks of American politics, the CEOs of our military manufacturers and mercenary armies, and the visiting foreign heads of state, all are highly skilled at an improvisational syncopation that will promote new conflict.

In this time of impending sequestration and other budgetary pressures, the “dog-and-pony” shows of the weapons manufacturers and the armed services have only just begun. They will cycle through multiple themes. Most will revolve around fears that will reference past attacks on the United States — but conveniently ignore that many of the weapons systems being purchased at extravagant cost are of little relevance to defense against any attacks we are likely to face, and that bountiful weapons combined with an American psychology of overreach have played a significant role in creating many of our international problems. Some will pander to concerns about the jobs that will be lost if we reduce military spending. (Attention/Achtung! My fellow 19th century American Southerners/20th century Germans, we must continue slavery/the concentration camps, lest unemployment rise!). The Pentagon and its contractors, having over the course of decades masterfully distributed military bases and manufacturing across so many Congressional districts, are now able to exploit economic-based fears of cutbacks to enlist the support of Congress against necessary military cuts. Together they will also leverage the complex blend of patriotism and justified pride at the historical role of the U.S. in fighting tyranny during WWII, now exploiting such feelings to imply that a never-ending worldwide projection of U.S. force in the service of supposed liberation is desirable — never mind that our actions in Vietnam and Iraq and Afghanistan did not go according to plan, and future ones may not either. Given the diversity of themes used to influence political opinion in favor of irrationally high levels of military spending, perhaps it ultimately is not surprising that they have thrown in a bit of greenwashing too.

For those with an interest in the ecological opportunity costs of U.S. militarism, consider this: In an article published in Science magazine in 2001, Stuart Pimm and colleagues examined the costs of preserving a significant fraction of the world’s biodiversity. They estimated then that the preservation of twenty-five biodiversity “hotspots” plus the acquisition of tropical wilderness preserves could be achieved for a one-time cost of approximately $25 billion for terrestrial ones, and an additional $2.5 billion for marine reserves. While species numbers have significant correlations to area (see here, and here), and therefore preservation would ideally include more land than the Pimm et al. proposal, implementation of their proposal would be a good starting point towards the preservation of biodiversity. Assuming that costs have quadrupled in the intervening years, such preservation could be achieved at a ONE-TIME current cost of $110 billion. Current U.S. “defense” spending, stripped of its creative accounting, is well over six times that figure PER YEAR.

Recommended reading on the topic of military spending and related politics: anything by Andrew Bacevich.

Fred Drumlevitch blogs (irregularly) at www.FredDrumlevitch.blogspot.com
He can be reached at: FredDrumlevitch12345 (at) gmail.com

Text Copyright Fred Drumlevitch

1 comment:

  1. a question that should really be raised. armaments or mother nature? choose.